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B1.9 Civil society institutions and community based organisations


Civil Society Institutions (CSIs), Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) can play an important role in developing and communicating integrated water resource management policies.

There is a large variety of players under this banner - from local informal to more formalised community based organisations and NGOs. These organisations complement government activities and are involved in local-level development, advocacy, action research and social mobilisation. They are important players and apart from their development work often provide a voice for the poor and marginal groups. However, there has been a proliferation of civil society and non-governmental organisations, which, however well-meaning, are often non-accountable and may operate from a narrow self interest with no responsibility for the consequences of their actions. They are not and should not be taken as a substitute for government and government should not abdicate its responsibility.

However, within this spectrum CBOs can play an important role in the management of local water resources, for example in the establishment of rainwater harvesting programmes, local water supply and sanitation or the management of fishery resources. They have shown considerable ability to:

  • Advocate on behalf of nature and environmental protection;
  • Develop and test new models and tools in water management;
  • Increase awareness of the need for sustainable water management (see also C4);
  • Mobilise local communities to get involved.

It is important to provide a supportive environment for such self-evolving movements. Tools for support include: creation of peer exchange between CBOs to stimulate learning and competition; creation of apex units to federate, support and promote different local initiatives, and access to finance for example through local development banks of micro-finance institutions. NGOs have also been effective in supporting local organisations as their values and work culture often allow them to build up the required confidence and, as the flexibility with which they operate improves, efficiency.

Lessons learned

  • Collaboration between service providers and CBOs can strengthen community ownership and build water management capacity at a local level (B2.1).
  • Similarly, working linkages between CBOs and local government (see B1.10) provide a strong structure, allowing local water management issues to be scaled up and strengthen local regulatory capacity.
  • It is important to think through which level is most workable and will create a portfolio of activities that justifies the existence of a permanent local organisation. Micro-planning and resource mapping are useful instruments at CBO level.
  • Civil society organisations representing either professional categories or interest groups are most effective in societies where there is a commitment to participation and consultation.
  • There is a danger that unless CBOs are well structured they may be taken over by narrow and stronger interest groups.

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